Thirty years ago today I stood at an altar dressed in a beautiful pearl and lace wedding gown and promised to faithfully love and honor the man who had become my best friend. In front of 400+ witnesses, he promised the same as he recited beautiful, Christ-centered vows he had written based on Ephesians 5. The pledge was meant to last a lifetime through good times and bad, through sickness and health, until separated by death. I fully believed our hearts were in alignment and our vows were sincere.
Within the first year I realized all was not what it seemed. I did not know what to make of it at the time. All I knew was that his passion toward me began to wane. We still enjoyed being together and got along like best buddies. Confusion set in. We were blessed with a son after two years and then a daughter two years later. By now he was in the habit of lying to me about various things, mainly about finances. Meanwhile, he was attentive to my needs, wonderful with the kids, providing well for our family, and serving at church. I began to struggle. We discussed the issues periodically, but I often came away from those conversations feeling like it was my fault somehow. We sought counseling. It wasn’t helpful.
One morning while he was showering, his phone lit up with a text from a female co-worker that said “I love you too! See you soon.” The message was brief but spoke volumes. It’s hard to describe the emotional and physical impact of that moment. Something like being struck by lightning I suppose. In an instant my body was shaking uncontrollably, nausea set in along with the strangest mix of emotions involving devastating pain that wanted to produce a cascade of tears and an intense anger that completely blocked them from flowing. Our marriage was in crisis and our lives would never be the same.
I eventually learned that my husband had been living a double life for decades committing every form of infidelity prior to and throughout our marriage leading to this most recent adulterous relationship with his co-worker. With his business travel serving as a cloak, he had successfully kept it hidden from me, our family and our church. We sought the help of our pastor, godly family members, and a variety of counselors. The shame he experienced was overwhelming. He shed many tears and promised to forsake the sin and recommit to faithfulness in our marriage. I would love to say that he gained lasting victory over his sin and our marriage was restored. I fully believed that this was possible for us with God’s help. The hard reality is that even while proclaiming a commitment to the Lord and our marriage, my husband descended further into a life of sin until it completely engulfed him. His involvement with multiple partners eventually resulted in a pregnancy and our 20 year marriage ended in divorce.
Betrayal can occur in any relationship, and if you’ve experienced betrayal you know the pain first hand. Betrayal cuts deep into our souls because it can only occur in the context of love and trust. Spurgeon said it this way, “An unkind word from a stranger may have a very slight effect upon us; but if such a word should come from the lips of one whom we love, it would cut us to the quick.” (H, Spurgeon, Charles. The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 52: Sermons 2968-3019. Delmarva Publications, Inc., n.d.) We see an example of this in Psalm 55 where David gives us a moving firsthand account.
My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; For it is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. But it is you….my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together within God's house. (Ps 55:4-6,12-14 ESV)
The one who has been betrayed not only faces hurt, but often they are also perplexed and confused. They need to recalibrate their understanding of the relationship with the one who has betrayed them and to develop a strategy for moving forward. In the midst of the tempest, our best first step is to turn to the Lord for help. In the same Psalm we see David fully trusting the Lord.
But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon. I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice. He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me. God will give ear and humble them, he who is enthroned from of old, because they do not change and do not fear God. Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:16-19, 22)
In the 10 years since the divorce my life has changed significantly but the betrayal in my past still casts a long shadow over my present life. That doesn’t mean it defines me, but I’ve come to realize that acknowledging the shadow can be beneficial. Here’s an example of what I mean. When September 11th rolls around every year, those of us who lived through it are reminded of how that event changed all of our lives and genuine grief resurfaces for many of us. No one would suggest that we forget it ever happened. The lessons we learned through that tragedy are brought to mind and if we’re wise we will take heed.
The long shadow of betrayal in my own life serves as a reminder of the many spiritual lessons I learned through that dark time. While my husband’s betrayal threatened to crush me, it also caused me to become increasingly desperate for and dependent on the Lord. As I spent time in God’s word looking for help, he graciously taught me, cared for and comforted me, strengthened my faith and gave me a vision and purpose for the future. I learned that he can redeem my suffering for his glory and that gave me hope.
This hope is available for you too. No matter how dark and painful your circumstances may be, I encourage you to call upon the one who is ever faithful. Dive deep into his word, meditate on the Psalms, discover the richness of his attributes. Hold fast to his promises and believe him when he says “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Deut 31:6)